Research Tip: Use Google Scholar's "Cited By" Tool

At the beginning of this new fall semester, many of us might be planning our upcoming research projects. With those plans in mind, this blog begins with my personal analogy for literature review genres: a guided tour. That analogy is presented in order to speak to a common frustration that students encounter when extending their own research projects by examining the reference listings of their main sources. Such referencing (by nature) always moves to older sources. All of these topics are explored in order to describe a tool on Google Scholar that can connect to newer research projects instead of older ones.

Reference Lists as Tour Guides

Most of your time in student research will likely involve building confidence in personal abilities through identifying your preferences for topics, key terms, publication portals, search methods, disciplinary standards, and ethical considerations. In other words: identifying your specializations. During this complicated growth, students naturally value those research writers who most clearly guide their readers through the complex materials. Those leading research authors move through their sources like an expert tour guide, focusing their comments specifically on what interests the group’s shared focus They don’t explain the whole article, but rather they highlight its relevant features in light of the larger theme. For a good analogy, think of a guided “star tour” that focuses on homes in the Hollywood area. They can slow down or pull over the mini-bus for a moment, but they can’t say very much about any individual site: there’s a tour to complete and traffic to consider.

Hopefully, you are already starting to find some preferred voices in your field. Even at more advanced stages of research, though, some students still might not have cited enough sources or might not have worked in topics where they felt sufficiently expert to have come to a level of mastery. Thus, they might fail to truly appreciate how their articles’ own reference lists provide maps to relevant research within the field. Such students overlook valuable resources for their research growth, though. If you have never done such a review, then I encourage you to immediately go to one of your most memorable sources from a recent (or ongoing) paper in order to do exactly that.

Using your best authors’ reference lists to find any texts you have not yet uncovered will eventually become an integral step in your research projects. However, even though most students eventually learn this value of reviewing their reference lists, many also give up on the practice soon after beginning it. In such cases, they might feel that this activity creates a different problem of “swimming upstream” against their need for more recently published sources. Luckily, even if you have given up on these practices before, a tool on Google Scholar should prove helpful.

Finding Reference Links to Newer Publications

Some lucky students (and now, all you readers) will then also stumble across a tool on Google Scholar that can allow you to find other, newer sources that have cited the article in their own reference lists. Thus, instead of going backward in time to older publications, you can use this tool to find later publications that continued to explore the same questions, procedures, and insights.

In the tour guide analogy above, this tool would be like having an informant inside the biggest real estate agent’s office or a listening device inside the leading escrow agency. It would help you get the hot, juicy details of what is most current in your field. It would help you to stay ahead of your competitors. If you have not begun using this tool, then I encourage you to try it out soon. Find one of your sources, and then go search for the author and some keywords from the title on http://scholar.google.com to load the article. On the search results, a link below your article will show the number of authors that have published documents citing your source. A nice compliment to any reference-selection process!

Even if you have already started to use this tool, though, you might also consider whether (and how well) you look specifically for places in a text where your authors indicate such connections.

Advanced Tip: Try to Detect Author Cues in Their Signal Phrases

As students, comprehending available data can get directly limited by our lack of knowledge about the history of interconnected research institutions or projects represented inside those sources. Names or jargon terms will be dropped that resound with the audience in a way that we students might simply miss. The in-text naming of sources that APA and other author-date sources use can make things even more unclear. However, once you have started looking at your authors’ reference pages for connections, then you might also try to notice times when your authors indicate such patterns in their own wording.

Even though their wording will always refer to past sources, the connection of these sources over time will likely fit within a specific ongoing research community, and tracking their reference connections (both backward and forward) will prove very efficient to your growth of understanding. In literature review sections especially, consider “tuning in” to the possibility of important links when authors use phrases like:

  • “We have previously established that”

  • “Once Howard (2013) noted the correlation between”

  • “Ongoing debate”

Or words like:

  • Shift, transition, advance, progress, discovered

  • development, re-examination, reconsideration

Or when they name leading institutions

  • CERN in particle physics

  • American Medical Association in health

  • International Atomic Energy Agency on nuclear power

  • CISCO in networking

  • etc.

Depending on your field, you might find this "cited by” tool and the associated observation of wording to be of greater or lesser usefulness, but try them out with your next project, and I am sure that you will be more pleased in the final quality of your reference listings than you had been on the projects you completed before you made the switch.

Write on, friends!

Daniel Roberts, MAR

Though Dan loves to study all different forms of communication, he finds the unique qualities of printed text fascinating. Because of that fascination with printed communications, he thrives when helping students to find ways to review the clarity of their phrasing and wording at the sentence level. His studies in religion, philosophy, history, doctrine, and ecclesiology allow him to help students coming from a wide variety of faith backgrounds to tackle their faith integration concepts in ways that produce clear and detailed text. Some of his research interests include theology, philosophy, religious history, comparative study of world religions, neuropsychology, diet and nutrition, logic (and logical fallacies), organic gardening, slow food, fine cooking, cinematography, screenwriting, and open source software.